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Update from the “Real World”: Musings of a Music School Grad

0 Zachary Preucil

imgres-25I know I’m succumbing to stereotype to say this, but it’s hard to believe how fast this year has gone by. It feels as though the seemingly endless polar vortexes of January and February transpired only yesterday, but now it’s the week before Christmas, and 2014 is preparing to make its exit. For me, this year was both memorable and transformational. In January, I was a graduate student at the Eastman School of Music; now I am a professional cellist in the greater Chicago area. In January I took cello lessons; now, I teach about thirty of them each week. Most significantly, in January, I wondered rather trepidaciously about what life in the “real world” would be like-and now, I’m living that life.

My concerns were not unfounded-after all, I had heard some unsettling stories about this “real world” place, where the poor suckers who picked a fine arts major languish in a state of perpetual unemployment, have to get around town in unusual means of transport worthy of the film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, and make their homes in roomy cardboard boxes that formerly housed Maytag dishwashers. But the doomsayers clearly have it wrong, since I am making money, recently purchased a 2015 Honda Fit (albeit with some APR financing still to go), and live in a real house with heating and air conditioning and best of all, electricity! (Okay, so it also belongs to my parents, but at least it beats the Maytag box.) So I feel justified in deeming my foray into the world of work to be somewhat of a success.

What’s more, I have to admit that-as much as I enjoyed my days as a college student-life in the real world has its benefits. For starters, there’s no homework, no exams to study for, no grades to stress about; you get to call most people by their first names; and after performances, instead of being treated to a healthy dose of constructive criticism from a stone-faced prof, you get a handshake and a check. You don’t have to get up early to warm up for a lesson, spend hours on the phone trying to book a pianist who both knows your repertoire and is available for your studio class, or debate at length with your string quartet about which movement you should bring in for your next coaching. Gone are the days of trying to convince yourself that, despite all indications to the contrary, you are in fact eating real food in the college cafeteria-now that you actually have time to go grocery shopping and make something other than a TV dinner, your evenings are no longer spent groping for the TUMS. And finding a practice room? What about having one assigned to you backstage? Huh?

This is not to say, however, that the real world is a place of comfort and luxury. There may be things like tasty food and ample practice space and cooperative accompanists, but there are also things like lengthy commutes, shockingly low-paying gigs, and delightful little envelopes from Sallie Mae reminding you that your loan to the conservatory won’t be paid off until sometime in the next decade. There’s the ever-present pressure to prove yourself, the temptation to compete with that annoying Facebook friend who likes to post about every new opportunity he’s garnered with lots of exclamation points and hashtags and thank-yous to all the little people who made it possible. If you’re single (like me), often times that will come up for discussion. And some days, the future really can seem daunting, unknowable, and even bleak.

But there is no perfect time in life-no matter what your age, or what you have achieved, there will still be worries, pressures, and problems. Some times in life are unquestionably more trying than others, and though I am obviously not as experienced with the whole life thing as a lot of people, I would venture to say that this time of transition and uncertainty directly following one’s college years is probably one of the more challenging periods. But in the end, I firmly believe one’s potential for success in this period is largely dependent on the attitude one assumes. You could freak out about not having a great job, or that you’re stuck freelancing while your old roommate is playing in the LA Phil, or that you’re single and saddled with debt and living in your parents’ basement because they turned your old room into a workout space (these are hypotheticals, of course; none of my roommates have landed anything in LA….yet). Or you could recognize that this in fact an exciting and wondrous time in your life, because almost anything is possible, and a golden opportunity could present itself at any given moment. The latter is the view I choose to take, for a few reasons: 1) it’s true, 2) it’s certainly more encouraging than the alternative, and 3) it encourages one to maintain an open mind. If you tell yourself that you can’t do something, you won’t, even if you are capable of it. But if tell yourself that you can, you will, even if you can’t yet.

Well, that’s what I’ve learned so far out in these here parts. More updates are to come, but in the meantime, I would like to wish all of my readers a most joyous holiday season,  and a happy and healthy New Year! Until 2015….

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